One common trope in science fiction is a robot completely misunderstanding what a human being needs. They might understand the words – a sarcastic “I’m having a great day!” — and respond with a hearty, if mechanical, word of appreciation. “Glad to hear it, sir.” The robot can’t quite understand what is actually going on with the human.
This isn’t just a matter of not understanding language; true understanding is, at its heart, about empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify what emotions someone is feeling, and to understand what is going on with them. Essentially, empathy is the ability to see someone else as a human being.
There’s a reason why empathy is so important in a contact center – agents are trying to solve problems. There is also no doubt that empathy can be hard to come by in a stressful job. But it is possible to develop empathy in a contact center setting.
Training and practice can help agents see the person on the other end of the phone, understand their issue, and work toward resolving their problems. AI training can help human agents become more, well, human.
It’s not science fiction. It is the reality of empathy.
Empathy: Not Just For Being Sad
One thing we want to make clear is that empathy isn’t just for when someone is feeling blue. That’s a common idea of empathy – I see that you are sad, and I feel sad too – but that is too limiting and narrow.
Empathy is how you see what someone is feeling overall. Are they frustrated, impatient, completely content, nervous, confident…well, you get the idea.
It isn’t sympathy. Empathy isn’t just feeling bad because someone is having a rough day. It is relating to a problem because you see the person as a person.
That empathy – that seeing a person – can be a challenge for agents.
Why Empathy Is A Challenge In Contact Centers
When people want to reference surly, unpleasant workers, they usually point to employees at a DMV. This might have a basis in truth, but it is also unfair. The employees at the DMV never, ever talk to someone who wants to be there. Every single interaction is with someone who considers being there a chore and a drag on their time. It has to wear on you!
It’s the same thing with a call center. Agents basically never take a call from someone who just wants to say “thank you, everything is good, keep it up!” Everyone who is calling is, to some extent, unhappy, they have to do so. It is an issue with a bill or a problem with their service or something else.
This speaks to the paradox of automation – systems have gotten so sophisticated that AI can handle most simple problems. So reaching out to a call center requires a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, which means a caller has already invested time without a positive result. There is built-in frustration.
Not only that, but the nature of a contact center dehumanizes the customer. They are a voice on the other end of the phone or a series of “X is typing” dots on a chat box. It is very easy to forget that they are people, and to see them just as problems.
But there’s a simple way to get past that.
“How Can I Help?” The Most Important Concept in Contact Centers
Four words. Four words that are a question, but are so much more. “How can I help” are four words that embody a concept. For call center agents, it is vital to always have that question in their heads. Because at the heart of the job is helping people resolve their problems.
“How can I help” captures so much of what makes a contact center work. Behind those words are the concepts of:
So those are the key words. But an agent can’t always ask those words.
Being Empathetic in Your Own Words
So, even though we said that “How Can We Help” is the important concept, it’s not the best question for a contact center agent to ask. After all, they are the ones that are supposed to know how to help. But that means they have to understand the issue. Or, rather, issues.
Because in every contact there are at least two overlapping issues.
There is the primary issue – the problem with the service or the bill or questions about sales or anything else. That’s the reason the customer is getting in contact.
Then there is the secondary issue – everything emotion the customer is bringing to the contact. Are they feeling fine? Are they already frustrated? Are they outright mad, hostile, or rude? Are they scared because they’ve missed the bill? Or, as it often is, overlap between a lot of emotions.
It is the job of the agent to try to understand what the secondary issues are. And they have to use the right language to get everyone on the same page.
That language can be placating. It can be sympathetic. It can be understanding, assured, or possibly no language at all – just listening for a bit.
Trying to understand someone who you have never met and who is sandwiched between other callers that you have never met is an uphill battle. It doesn’t always come naturally. It is easy to get numbed to it. But to bring successful resolution to the interaction, the agent has to bring empathy to every call.
That all can be hard to learn. But it has to be done. And it can be done.
How AI Coaching Can Develop Empathy for Agents
Empathy is a critical skillset in a contact center. People can memorize a script and understand the technical mechanisms toward solving the problem. But empathy is how customers stay happy. It’s how CSAT scores are boosted. It is how true customer loyalty is built. When customers have positive, healthy experiences, they become brand evangelists.
So how do you develop empathy? The best way is through experience. The more an agent talks with people, the more they can read their emotions and hear the things that the customer isn’t saying.
The problem, of course, is that when an untrained agent is dealing with real people, the stress levels raise for everyone. It is a high-risk situation. And that can lead to burnout really quickly.
Training is key – but the artificiality of role-playing with a supervisor really doesn’t help. It is too fake, and not at all like a normal call – an agent doesn’t have to work to see a colleague as a human being. They see them at lunch.
This gap – between a real person who is clearly not a customer and a customer who doesn’t want to be in a training session – can be bridged with AI coaching.
An AI coaching platform can simulate experiences based on hundreds of inputs. An agent will answer a phone or text with a simulator and it is exactly the same as talking to a customer. Sophisticated AI platforms, such as Zenarate, can produce a range of emotions that mimic the frustrations and needs of a real customer.
Astonishingly, it can even be programmed to be rude.
This kind of training is invaluable for an agent. They can begin to pick up cues, subtle or not. They can gain experience with all kinds of contacts, giving them the context they need for similar situations. And with the platform’s ability to generate feedback, the agent can get targeted training for areas in which they are struggling.
As our sci-fi example showed, robots can never quite be people. They won’t replace agents. But they can be used to generate empathy skills. And that makes our human agents even better.
Contact us today to schedule a demo to learn more about how you can incorporate Zenarate AI Simulation Training into your agent training program. We will answer your questions and show you how you can help your organization develop confidently prepared agents while delivering exceptional experiences to the ones that matter most – your customers.
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